Teen boys survive three days snowed in on West Coast mountain hike: ‘We were going to die’

Two teenage boys survived for three days while they were snowed in on a West Coast mountain hike during which they grew convinced their lives would end there.

Cesar Ramirez called the San Bernardino County sheriff’s department after the snow started covering the mountains east of Los Angeles where his 17-year-old son, Riley Ramirez and a friend, Cole White, had set off for a 10-day hike. He made the call after losing connection with them on a tracking app, according to the Associated Press.

Before the snow hit, he wasn’t concerned for their well-being as they’re experienced hikers and had plenty of food, gear, and other supplies.

The pair, who are hoping to join the military some day, carried a tent and snowshoes.

The sheriff’s department sent a helicopter to the boys’ last known location and followed their tracks until they were found and could be rescued. At that point, Mr Ramirez’s son had lost his jacket, and their tent was broken.

The Cypress, California father told the AP that the teenagers said, “we were already convinced we were going to die”.

The rescue took place as the state has worked to aid residents stuck in mountain areas hit by as much as 10 feet (three metres) of snow following a series of storms.

Governor Gavin Newson has declared a state of emergency in 13 counties, including San Bernadino, where the snow has closed roads, prompted power outages, collapsed roofs, and led to residents being stuck inside for days.

San Bernadino Sheriff’s Sergeant John Scalise said the boys had minor cases of hypothermia, adding that they were lucky to be alive following three nights of huddling together for warmth, according to the AP.

While he said they had been well-prepared for the hike, the snow made things worse.

“They knew there was weather. But I don’t think they expected the amount,” he said.

To the north, in Inyo County, another rescue operation took place when a man was discovered waving from inside his car that was partly covered by snow on Thursday. The man was rescued after California Highway Patrol located a ping from his mobile phone and dispatched a helicopter team.

He had left the Big Pine and had last been heard from on 24 February, the Inyo County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement on Facebook over the weekend.

Image from the Inyo County Sheriff's Office (Inyo County Sheriff's Office)
Image from the Inyo County Sheriff's Office (Inyo County Sheriff's Office)

A storm left further snow on mountain areas in Northern California on Saturday and the National Weather Service in Sacramento said a winter storm warning remained in effect until early on Monday.

In the San Bernadino Mountains in the southern parts of the state, the authorities have been trying to clear roads, and have been handing out food, water, and blankets to residents. The Red Cross has established a shelter at a high school in the area.

The San Bernadino County Sheriff’s Department distributes supplies (Facebook / The San Bernadino County Sheriff’s Department)
The San Bernadino County Sheriff’s Department distributes supplies (Facebook / The San Bernadino County Sheriff’s Department)

Local leaders have said that some residents may be stuck inside for another week.

Katy Curtis lives in Crestline in the San Bernadino Mountains. She told the AP that she hiked five miles (eight kilometres) in snowshoes to get gasoline to a family stuck in their home to allow them to run their generator.

“I’m healthy, so I just thought, well, I can walk, and I did. But it was probably the longest day of my life,” she told the news agency.

She added that one family member has medical needs and that cars are buried and that snow reached the roof of her home.

“We’re just all so exhausted in every way,” she told the AP.

On Friday, a person living in Lake Arrowhead told Fox 11: “People are panicking left and right. We’ve had roofs starting to cave in. Houses are blowing up because of gas leaks and catching on fire. And these are real things that are happening here.”

“This is real and this is scary,” another individual told the Los Angeles Times on Thursday. “I just don’t think people realize how bad it is. This is catastrophic up here.”